Geneva is often mistaken as Switzerland’s capital. It’s home to more than 200 headquarters of international organizations including the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The second-largest branch of the United Nations and World Bank are also here. To say that Geneva is an international city is an understatement, and it’s clear to see why many people would assume Geneva is the capital of Switzerland.
This concentration of power, money and influential citizens means that Geneva’s streets are glittered with premium boutiques, jewellers, luxury hotels and, of course, chocolatiers. But there’s another side to the city too. There are plenty of things to do other than shopping, and there are even some cheap hotel options in Geneva if you look carefully! Read on for our list of the best things to do in Geneva and get inspired for your upcoming trip.
Take a dip in Lake Geneva
If you’re visiting Geneva during the summer, one of the most popular places to be is by the lake. One of the largest lakes in Western Europe, Lake Geneva is surrounded by mountains on all sides. A dip here will surely be one of the most picturesque swims you ever have. Summertime in Geneva can reach temperatures of up to 26°C, and you’ll find both locals and tourists cooling off in the lake. Winter is another story – the temperature in Geneva in winter can fall below freezing, and snow is not uncommon. Yet, still, the lake has some visitors even in the colder months. If you’re brave enough to bear it, the locals will certainly applaud you. One of the most popular swimming spots in Geneva is the Bains des Pâquis, a spa-cum-swimming spot with an excellent restaurant to boot. So, if you do fancy a dip in the winter, you can warm up in one of the saunas or Turkish baths afterwards.
Stroll around the old town of Geneva
The old town sits on a hillside just above Lake Geneva. The narrow streets have a maze-like feel to them as they twist and twine their way through picturesque squares, antique shops, historical buildings and art galleries. In Geneva old town, all roads lead to the Cathedral (or so it feels that way). The St-Pierre Cathedral dates all the way back to the 4th century, and the stunning architectural masterpiece stands out amongst the smaller buildings that surround it. A walk up to the cathedral is worth it – it’s one of the most impressive sights to see in Geneva.
Afterwards, if you’re looking for a place to stop and recharge your batteries in the old town, look no further than La Clemance – located in the Place du Bourg-de-Four. Sit at one of the tables in the square and enjoy a freshly made pastry or a quiche just out of the oven. Especially in the summer, this cafe is a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. You may even decide to return again in the evening for a post-dinner cocktail.
Let the hours tick by at the Patek Philippe Museum
It would be amiss to visit Switzerland and not take a moment to explore the art of luxury watchmaking – something the Swiss are renowned for. The Patek Philippe Museum is a celebration of the intricate manufacturing process of some of the finest timepieces ever made. If you love seeing how things are made, the Patek Philippe museum should be high up on your list of things to do in Geneva. You’ll start off by marvelling at some of the first watches ever made, dating back to the 16th century, and work up to the most complicated timepiece ever made. If you want to know even more, make sure to not miss the guided tour that takes place every Saturday through the museum.
Walk through the blue door into a secret bar
The Bleu Nuit is a lively restaurant serving a small seasonal menu that changes every 4 to 6 weeks. The chef uses simple, local ingredients to cook his dishes that are prepared on the spot. The tasting menu is highly recommended, and a delicious way to taste authentic French-Swiss fusion cuisine whilst you’re in Geneva. After dinner, you’re in for a real treat! Head to the back of the restaurant and step through the old fridge door into another world – the fun side of Geneva. Yes, that’s right. Behind the blue fridge door is a secret bar where renowned bartender Olivia Hairay serves up inventive cocktail creations every Wednesday through Saturday, from 6 pm. until 2 am.
Visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
One of the best museums to visit in Geneva, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum houses a permanent collection around the theme of “The Humanitarian Adventure”. It’s split into three main exhibitions: Defending human dignity, restoring family links, and reducing natural risks. The museum tells the story of 150 years of humanitarian action, through a modern, interactive exhibition. As soon as you step through the door, you’ll be taken on an emotional journey to discover all the different international operations that the Red Cross have done, as well as be able to see current projects. International organizations such as the Red Cross are the beating heart of the city. A visit to its museum to see the global impact of the work they’ve done remains to be one of the most rewarding things to do in Geneva whilst you’re here.
The Museum of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (closing at 6 pm from April to October).
Ski the slopes of Chamonix
Just an hour and a half drive away from Geneva is the ski resort of Chamonix. It’s one of the best day trips to take from Geneva, but if you have the time, try to spend a few days here. To get to Chamonix from Geneva centre, you can rent a car or take one of the shuttle busses that go from Geneva airport to Chamonix ski resort. Chamonix is recognised as one of the best ski resorts in the world for expert skiers, but if you’re a beginner or skiing with a mixed ability group, then the areas of Brevant and Les Houches are ideal. Of course, Chamonix is not only open in the winter for skiing. There are many things to do here during the summer months too. Hiking, mountain biking and paragliding are all part of the summer life in Chamonix.
Play giant chess in Bastions park
Walk through the main entrance to Bastions Park from the Place Neuve, and just behind the big decorated gate, you’ll find the huge black and white checkers boards. It’s a popular place amongst old and young to play Chess, Go or Checkers. Challenge a friend, family member, or even a local, to a game of chess. The giant chessboards make it fun to watch, even if you’re not a grandmaster!
Whilst you’re in Bastions park, take a walk along the delightful tree-lined promenade and into Geneva’s first botanical garden. The garden is open year-round and changes with the season, so there’s always something to see. A walk around the 16,000 different species of plants is certainly one of the most peaceful things to do in Geneva, however, you will still work up an appetite! Take a break and sit down for lunch in the former park bandstand that is now a restaurant. The Café Restaurant du Parc des Bastions oozes vintage 19th-century style from the days when it was a pavilion. Red velvet sofas invite you to spend hours here, whilst the crystal chandeliers sparkle in the natural light streaming through the windows. The restaurant serves seasonal, fresh dishes and a delicious Sunday Brunch. In winter, order a mug of mulled wine before taking on the skating rink.
Feast on a cheese fondue
A trip to Switzerland is not complete without trying a cheese fondue! Without a doubt, one of the most popular things to do in Geneva is to dip pieces of bread into a warm pot of melted cheese. You’ll see many restaurants in the city serving up their version of cheese fondue, but the best place in Geneva to eat fondue is perhaps the least flashy of them all. The Bains des Pâquis is a public bathhouse on the banks of Lake Geneva, with a delightful restaurant called La Buvette des Bains. This noisy, vibrant restaurant serves a delicious fondue in an unbeatable atmosphere – for a reasonable price (and that’s really something in Geneva!). Fondue is served only during the winter season, from September to April. There is a huge seating area outside that remains warm even during the winter thanks to the massive fireplace and wooden floors. Our tip is to enjoy your swim in the lake before devouring a cheese fondue!
Now that you’ve read about the best things to do in Geneva, it’s time to book your trip! Save money by booking your flight and hotel together.